The Iowa state legislature keeps forgetting one thing in its quest to stop the public from learning about conditions in the state’s thousands of factory farms: the constitution.
ALEC Is The Factory Farm Of Ag-Gag Bills
Ag-gag bills, which seek to silence whistleblowers from documenting conditions on huge, industrial factory farms, have been proposed or passed in several states. Most have been defeated in the legislature or later found to be unconstitutional. Recently North Carolina’s ag-gag law was found to be unconstitutional; it was designed to stop factory farm whistleblowers but was written so broadly that it also stopped people from exposing conditions at nursing homes and day care centers, for example.
These bills are generally modeled after language shopped around by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC has been described as a “pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat ... to advance their legislative wish lists”. Ag-gag bills are notoriously controversial and unpopular with the general public. Iowa’s previous two ag-gag bills resulted in significant public outcry from a wide range of stakeholders including animal rights advocates, media, and civil rights organizations.
Will you tell your legislators to support the Farm System Reform Act?
Banning factory farms is how we protect ourselves!
Iowa Keeps Trying To Pass Ag-Gag Laws In Spite Of The Constitution
Iowa has tried not once, not twice, but an astonishing THREE TIMES to pass an ag-gag law to protect the state’s factory farms from scrutiny. The first was struck down as unconstitutional last year; the second is enjoined and appears headed for a similar fate; and the state did not even wait until a final decision before passing the third this early month.
This third version of ag-gag creates a new crime, “food operation trespass,” which is an aggravated misdemeanor. Under the law, factory farms, slaughterhouses, veterinary offices, or any other places food is processed, stored, or maintained are considered “food operations.” Trespassing on a food operation could be punishable by up to two years in jail and upward of $6,000 in fines. Anyone caught more than once could spend up to five years in prison.
Legislators clearly had an interest in limiting the potential for public outcry about this third attempt to protect corporate agribusiness, so they buried it in a bill focused on agriculture-related coronavirus concerns. They passed it in a late-night Friday session while constituents were understandably focused on both the pandemic and the protests against police violence, including in the streets of Des Moines. Sneakily passing a secrecy bill — it doesn’t get less democratic than that.
We know what Iowa’s legislators have to hide — what do Iowa’s factory farms have to hide?
Without Freedom To Document Agriculture Conditions, We’re At Risk
We only have whistleblowers to thank for what we know about conditions in factory farms. Over the years, brave people have taken serious risks to document and reveal animal welfare abuses, horrific working conditions, and countless food safety violations; their efforts have resulted in increased attention, and in many cases, important reforms. We have a right to know how our food is produced, and these undercover investigations protect consumers as well as animal welfare.
Iowa state senator Ken Rozenboom, the chief architect and one of the lead sponsors of Iowa’s ag-gag 3.0, owns factory hog farms. And he’s currently in a twist, because in 2019 Direct Action Everywhere documented appallingly cruel conditions in one of his barns, making national news. He claims this was the result of “caretaker deficiencies” by someone who was leasing the facility from him, and further claims to have since leased the facility to a relative. But instead of using his legislative power to overhaul what is clearly an inhumane system, Rozenboom has doubled down on shielding the industry, enacting ag-gag 3.0 so that he could bring criminal “food operation trespass” charges against anyone who would attempt to again expose horrific conditions on factory farms like his.
Ag-gag laws aren’t the answer. We need to ban factory farms.
Why Are Politicians Upholding Secrecy Just When We Most Need Protection?
Coronavirus cases are increasing in Iowa. The state’s budget shortfall for 2021 as a result of the pandemic is estimated to be $360 million. Protestors are in the streets every night demanding police reform. And despite all of that, a majority of Iowa’s elected officials continue to do the bidding of industrial agriculture rather than addressing the needs of their constituents. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds apparently wants to fight the constitution again, and on June 10 signed the new ag-gag bill into law. It will almost certainly be challenged.
Ag-gag laws violate first amendment rights to draw attention to the harms of industrial agriculture. Nothing about the way our food is produced should be a secret. The solution to our factory farm problem is to build a more sustainable, humane and safe food system—one that has nothing to hide. We need to fundamentally overhaul the way we produce food in this country, and that starts with banning factory farms.
Will you send a note to your legislators urging them to support the Farm System Reform Act? We can choose solutions instead of secrecy.